In privatization, services that are public are transformed into profit generators. Whether it is welfare services, or IT, or janitorial services, or private prisons, or child protection, or auditing, or engineering, or hospitals and health care---CWA members see the impact of privatization every day.
CWA’s Public, Healthcare and Education Workers are at the forefront of fighting privatization. The United Campus Workers-CWA Local 3865 has waged a successful three-year battle against the largest attempted outsourcing of higher education services in American history. Through this campaign the local has grown over 20% to over 1900 members.
In 2016, CWA Local 1085 in New Jersey waged a successful battle to stop privatization of 911 dispatch workers and nursing staff. By packing County Board of Freeholders meetings for months wearing CWA red, they were able to get the county to back off.
In 2015 the Texas State Employees Union - CWA Local 6186 fended off the privatization of Terrell State Hospital, a psychiatric care center. The state was attempting to outsource the prison to the GEO Group private prison firm. Thanks to an aggressive legislative push--TSEU’s annual lobby day brings over 500 members to the capitol from across the state--the effort was defeated.
Five Ways Big Business Work to Sell Off Public Services
Cut funding. The first step to get public services undermined is to cut them--so as to undermine the public’s trust. By reducing health benefits and stagnating wages for public employees, big business increases turnover. By understaffing public agencies, workers become burnt out. By limiting the ability of governments to perform essential public services, trust in all public services are undermined.
Corporate PR. “The private sector can do it better.” We’ve all heard it--but is it really true? The DMV is the oft-cited bogeyman of the public sector. But the DMV has a 50% approval rating. The major airlines, by contrast, have a 43% approval rating. Banks have a 37% approval rating. But there’s been a multi-faceted campaign to reduce confidence in public services across the board from the corporate media. And from scandals with charter schools, private prisons, to water privatization, to private security firms, to foster care, child protection and mental health privatization--time and again we’ve seen that when you put the profit into the public, the public loses--and profiteers win big.
Big Campaign Contributions. The day after Obama Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that private prison contracts would not be renewed, the private prison firm GEO Group funnelled $100,000 to a pro-Trump Super PAC, Rebuilding America Now. After giving just $210,000 to Super PACs prior to Yates’ decision (and none before 2015), the GEO Group has now given over $1.1 million to pro-Trump and other conservative SuperPACs. Meanwhile, GEO Group has won several new contracts from Trump, worth tens of millions of dollars. The GEO Group has funneled $125,000 into a SuperPAC supporting Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has also overseen lucrative contracts to the GEO Group.
Revolving door and questionable practices. In January 2018, the assistant director of operations for the Bureau of Prisons, Frank Lara, directed staff at the Bureau of Prisons to increase referrals to private prisons. In August, Lara was hired by the GEO Group as its new director of operations. The current head of the National Association of Water Companies, a pro-privatization group, used to be the head of Pennsylvania’s Public Utilities Commission, where he approved rate increases by private water companies. After it was revealed that it had cheated DC’s public school students out of millions of dollars, food service provider Chartwells donated $25,000 to a black tie gala ran by the DC school chancellor.
Attack unions. Unions are often the key barrier to privatization schemes. Unions fight for public services, so as a result privatizers don’t want unions around. Over the past few years, private prison company CoreCivic has donated over half a million dollars to groups that support anti-union Governors like the Republican Governors Association. When unions are weak, it’s easier to outsource work to the private sector. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is one of the most pro-privatization and anti-union Governors in the country. There’s a connection between the two.
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CWA's Privatization Toolkit
If you’re facing a privatization threat, have your local president or staff rep contact CWA Public Sector Researcher Matthew Cunningham-Cook at email@example.com or (202) 434-1161.